It’s a sign of the times that we live in a period that has an entire subgenre of reality TV devoted to “families/professional groups living in the wilderness," with a sizeable sub-subgenre of shows taking place amongst the frozen taiga and tundra of Alaska.
It speaks to the sense of adventure within all of us, the yearning to see humans conquer the most inhospitable reaches of the globe, and apparently, none of us care if what we see on the screen is largely a carefully crafted illusion.
Some reality shows are more fake than others, but few have weathered repeated claims of fakery like Alaskan Bush People. Premiering on the Discovery Channel in May 2014, the series followed the exploits and day-to-day life of the Brown family, headed by patriarch Billy Brown, who forge a life devoid of modern technology and conveniences in the stark woods of rural Alaska.
At least, that’s what they do on-camera. Off-camera life finds the Brown family in a web of secrets, crimes, half-truths, and lies that have led to repeated public accusations that the image of themselves and their life on the show is a carefully crafted charade.
From frequent hotel stays to stealing from the government, here are the 15 Secrets You Never Knew About Alaskan Bush Peopl.
15 Their original property was only a half-mile from a pizza delivery place
The Browns claim to live completely off the grid in the wilderness of Alaska, and aside from ventures in their boat to civilization, the show presents their homestead as completely isolated from the modern world. While it ss definitely in the middle of the woods, it's not so isolated that you can’t get a slice of pizza in 30 minutes or less.
Their homestead was less than half a mile from a local pizzeria and only a short drive from the highway. It was also only ten miles from the nearest town-- not right in the heart of civilization, but surely not the 30-year exhile from modern life that they appear to push on the show.
Rather than exiled to the Alaskan bush, they were actually in a subdivision that was much more crowded than the producers would have you believe.
14 Noah’s love interest was actually an actress
Pretty much every star of a reality show can be considered an “actor” or “actress” given how staged and fabricated the circumstances usually are. Even in the supposedly-raw confessional interviews, they’re clearly playing up reactions and are frequently coached on their responses by producers. However, nothing says fake like having an actual actress on the show as a love interest like it’s a sitcom episode.
According to Channel Guide, it turns out that the woman Noah goes on a romantic date with in a May, 2016 episode of ABP is actually a San Diego, California-based actress named Karryna Kauffman, whose IMDb credits include tennis rom-com 16-Love and the shorts such as The Song of Birds & Bees and Love in the Time of Flannel.
13 Billy Isolated Ami From Her Family
As the patriarch of the Brown family, Billy comes across on the show as the steady guiding hand of the family, while Ami is the quiet, dutiful, subservient wife. It turns out that this arrangement may be enforced by Billy himself, and that from the beginning, he was intent on keeping Ami in her place.
When Ami’s mother gave her permission for her daughter to marry Billy, it was under the condition that she remain in high school and finish her education. Unfortunately, soon after Ami and Billy wed she cut off almost all contact with her family with no explanation.
Her mother and brother accuse Billy of keeping her away from them, pulling her out of high school, and refusing to allow her to speak to her family. Most creepily, when her brother confronted Billy about reneging on his promise to allow Ami to finish high school, he angrily told him, “That’s none of your mother’s business now,” and “She belongs to me!”
12 Billy and Joshua served 30 days in jail for falsely claiming that they lived in Alaska from 2009 to 2012
The deepest, darkest scandal to plague the show happened fairly recently, but ties nicely in with the dubious veracity of the pasts of the cast. In 2014, the family was charged with a whopping 60 counts of first-degree unsworn falsification and first- and second-degree theft for lying on applications to Alaska’s Permanent Fund dividend.
Billy Brown admitted in a plea bargain submitted to prosecutors that “...By submitting false PFD applications for myself and my children, I stole $7,956 from the people of Alaska.”
It’s a far cry from the self-sufficient, rugged pioneer image that the show presents, and it seems like the judge wasn’t buying it either. After rejecting the plea deal, the judge sentenced Billy and his son Joshua to 30 days in jail, and fined Joshua $5,000, with $2,000 of that suspended.
All told, the entire family took $20,938 from the state of Alaska that they were not eligible for, although the judge dropped the charges against the rest of the Brown clan.
11 Billy Brown’s “secret, long-lost daughter” has been in contact with him and the family for years
One of the most shocking and heartfelt story arcs on the show involved Billy Brown reuniting with his daughter Twila Byars, who he apparently hadn’t seen or spoken to in over 30 years.
Billy had apparently been married before Ami, when he was only 16 and his bride was 17, and according to RadarOnline, the couple had two children together in accordance to Texas birth certificates.
It’s unclear what happened between the couple, but friends of Twila insist that Twila and Billy have communicated over the years. Despite Ami and the Brown's children acting like they didn’t know Twila during the episode introducing her, they’d already met her, had known her for years, and Matt Brown had “always treated her like a sister."
10 Matt Brown almost killed himself after mishandling gunpowder and cannon fuse
Matt Brown was being careless in some way with gunpowder and cannon fuse. It resulted in an explosion that left him bleeding severely from his head. He required hospitalization and several stitches to put his scalp back together.
In an exclusive to People, the family and crew revealed that Matt had set off an improvised “bear deterrent” that exploded. As Matt admitted to his brother Bam Bam, he “took it a little too far," with Bam agreeing that Matt was “overzealous” with the gunpowder. The family was in California at the time for cancer treatments for Amora “Ami” Brown.
However, according to TMZ’s sources, the incident was a lot dumber. They assert that Matt had actually been storing gunpowder and cannon fuse in a mason jar in the fridge, and that the mixture was so unstable that it eventually exploded, propelling the fridge door at Matt’s head. It’s certainly a more entertaining story, but for now only Matt and the crew know the truth.
9 One of their neighbors shot fireworks at a filming helicopter that was disturbing his family’s dinner
In an incident more exciting and dangerous than anything the producers could fabricate, the crew heard what they thought was gunfire in the darkness around the Brown homestead.
As it turns out, not only do the Browns have neighbors, but they don’t take too kindly to the machinery and noise of filming. The show presented this as a situation where the Browns were getting forced off of their home, with Billy proclaiming that the land wasn’t worth dying for, and the family relocated to a boat that served as their home thereafter. The reality is quite different, but no less entertaining.
Their neighbor was Jason Hoke, a regional economic development director, who was upset when a helicopter filming aerial footage for ABP flew so low over his house that the entire structure shook while he and his family were eating dinner, making his 4-year-old son cry.
What the show tried to pass off as gunshots from some nefarious agent looking to seize the land was actually Hoke lighting off fireworks and aiming them at the filming chopper. Local PD responded, but no charges were filed, although Hoke was hit with a $500 fine by the FAA.
8 Their “wild” names aren’t actually their legal names
Another wilderness show trope that ABP checks off is having cast members with weird, redneck names. Mountain Monsters has “Huckleberry” and “Trapper," Deadliest Catch had “Corky” and “Wild Bill," and ABP has “Bear” and “Bam-Bam," and the show and confessional interviews imply that these are their real names.
It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility, since “Merry Christmas Katherine Raindrop Brown” is their sister Rainy’s full legal name. However, in this case, they’re appropriated appellations, since the brothers’ real names are “Solomon” and “Joshua.” While “Joshua” is a little too mundane for the crazy world of wilderness reality TV, you’d think “Solomon” is a suitable name that could stand on its own.
7 Despite claiming that they’ve lived in Alaskan wilderness for 30 years, they spent years in the lower states
Contrary to what the show presents, the Brown clan have actually lived in the lower 48 states several times in the decade before their show aired. Most of the family is currently living in Los Angeles, since their mother Ami Brown receives treatment for stage four cancer at UCLA.
However, even before that, Billy Brown had moved his family both back to his native Texas and to California in the years leading up to the production of ABP, as he was attempting to make it as a writer and author. They had even maintained residence in Colorado, according to charges made against the family that they had falsified information on hunting and fishing permit applications.
It’s already come back to bite the family, and also pokes holes in the mystique of their pioneer spirit. Not only have they made it down to the US mainland for longer than a few weekends, but it was basically so Billy could sell his story, and try to get some money out of the image of the lifestyle that he and his family had perfected.
6 The series may be a recreation of the lifestyle seen in Billy’s novel One Wave At A Time
There are a few facts about the life of Billy Brown that can’t be disputed, including the tragic death of his parents, his marriage to Ami, and the fact that their family has lived in Alaska.
However, without proof of Billy and Ami’s life in Alaska, theories have cropped up that he may simply be living out the lifestyle detailed in his allegedly autobiographical novel One Wave At A Time. In the ultimate instance of reality method acting, he may be finally getting to author his own life story as the star of ABP.
The novel covers his early life of luxury, his parents’ tragic death, and his courtship and marriage to Ami. Though it clearly covers some real facts about his life, it is unclear just how much is real and how much is purely fantasy.
5 Matt Brown was arrested for DUI
Matt Brown has made a few questionable decisions, and those decisions involved booze, Wal-Mart, sex, and crashing into a bike and leaving the scene of the accident. The car he was driving when he ran into a parked motorcycle in the lot of a Wal-Mart at 4:45 AM wasn’t even his, and belonged to a woman he’d met in a bar in Juneau after shots.
As he explained excitedly to the officers responding, he’d been dancing with her, hooked up with her, and dispatched to the Wal-Mart to get morning munchies, but blamed his weird behavior on Attention Deficit Disorder. After blowing a .15 in a breathalyzer test (that he puked during), he eventually made the responsible decision to enter rehab.
4 The Browns have been spotted by neighbors and locals staying in a hotel near their “homestead”
It seems that, in addition to fudging how long they’ve lived in the great white north, the Brown clan can’t be bothered to actually live on their boat or in their homestead all of the time, despite what the cameras show.
Residents of Hoonah, Alaska have seen the Brown family staying at the cozy and rustic Icy Strait Lodge when not filming for ABP. While Hoonah isn’t a bustling metropolis, it is still a popular tourist destination for cruise ship companies like Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean.
It’s only accessible by boat and plane, and boasts a year-round population hovering around 700-800 people, so it’s definitely small-town Alaska. However, considering the Browns and their show present them as being completely isolated and self-sufficient, the fact that the family lodge in a comfortable tourist town when not exploring and foraging for the cameras comes across a bit like cheating.
3 Matt Brown stayed with the crew and tried to pick up girls at the hotel restaurant
Much less harmless, but still ponderous if you’re trying to preserve the illusion of the family’s wilderness isolation, is Matt Brown’s penchant for mixing it up with the locals in the very hotels that his family stays in when they’re not living in their homestead for the benefit of the cameras.
Locals describe Matt as quite the charmer, and a regular fixture in the restaurants and bars in the hotels that his family stays in.
Apparently, according to locals, the handsome eldest Brown son is an incorrigible flirt, and surely his rugged outdoorsman schtick combined with his celebrity status works better than any pick-up line. Blowing his family’s cover, though, is apparently far from his mind when the Browns aren’t filming.
2 Billy’s wife, Ami, was 15 at the time of their marriage
Billy Brown met his future wife, Ami, in the depths of his despair over the untimely death of his parents. In a way, it’s an uplifting story of a man at the end of his rope finding hope and closure through the power of love. In another, more relevant way, it’s a little creepy and weird because Ami, born Amora Lee Branson, was only 15 when they were married.
Was it illegal? No, but just barely. Texas’ age of consent when they married in 1978 was 18; Texas would later pass what was dubbed a “Romeo and Juliet” law where an exception to the age of consent would be made if there was an age difference of three or fewer years between the couple. This did not apply back then.
The only thing that stopped Billy, who is ten years older than Ami, from going to jail was the fact that he had permission from Ami’s parents.
1 Billy Brown was actually born into a “life of privilege”
Billy Brown certainly looks the part of a mountain man, sporting a handlebar mustache you could hang a tire swing off of and a rugged, weathered, expressive face that looks like it’s seen all of the trials a life in nature can offer.
Seeing him on the show, you’d never guess that he grew up in the lap of luxury in Texas, the son of a fabulously wealthy president of a limousine company. In Billy’s own words, “I was given new boats and cars for my birthdays. I was truly the luckiest kid in town ... I had it all— money, clothes, big ticket toys, and a loving family too."
Sadly, a freak plane crash in the spring of 1969 claimed the lives of his parents and older sister, and sent Billy spiraling into depression and homelessness, and from there, the show’s official bio says that he found love with current wife Ami and decided to live off of the land.
Do you know any other dark secrets lurking in the underbrush of the family behind Alaskan Bush People? Lay it all out for us in the comments!